1994 and 2020- A Parallel

In 1994 I started the business of www.wheatonsprague.com working out of my home in a 12′ x 13′ bedroom that had been temporarily converted into an office. There were two of us in the office (my business partner and I.) I had a computer, a land line phone, an inkjet printer and some software. No email. No internet. We didn’t have an office until after 5 or 6 weeks, at which time we were able to move. The home office wasn’t a “remote office. “It was just an office. There was no such thing as a “remote work” label back then.

In April and May of 2020, and now in December, I find myself working once again full time from a home office. This one is a basement office of about 8′ x 10′. It’s all mine. I don’t have to share it, and it’s too small to do so anyway. I have a computer, software (mostly cloud based), a copier that I don’t use (everything is electronically done) and a phone. The phone happens to be a mobile phone and is more powerful than the computer from 1994. I could work in our business’s office but it’s closed temporarily due to COVID19. Everyone in the company is working from their home office.

Isn’t it a bit ironic? I mean, I started in 1994 with a computer, a phone and a home office. Now in 2020 I am working in the same context. Of course there’s more connectivity, and the internet gives almost unlimited options in the ability to do work and communicate with staff.

Microchips, a screen, a phone, and a home office. Sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same.

What’s your experience?

Remote work: Time Give and Take

Our offices, our entire business, are presently working 100% remote (not working in physical Wheaton Sprague office locations) due to COVID19 considerations. Even when we returned to office from Mid-June through November 26th, we were probably 50% remote on any given day. Here’s some reflections on how I view my time thus far, associated with remote work.

I save 30-40 minutes per day not driving back and forth to work

I need an extra 30 minutes per day with slower technology, not having triple monitors, and less access to my best “gear” from home; plus a dozen other little I.T. issues.

I save 15 minutes per day not making my lunch (yes I make my lunch)

I need an extra 15 to 30 minutes per day in extra work of engaging with staff via remote means.

I save days and days not traveling to see clients across the country

I need days to connect remotely with clients and drive engagement, do virtual meetings, track people down. I lose the energy and connectivity that being with people face to face brings.

What’s the net? Is it a gain, or a loss? Is it equivalent in the time equation? I’d say it’s almost equal. We gain and we lose. There’s the PERCEPTION of having “way more time.” It’s all contextual. I like the convenience that some of it brings. I dislike the lack of community, in a place, building energy and momentum. I like not having to drive as much, but I miss the transition driving to and from another space; the demarcation. I like being in my own space, but I miss being able to go interact with people (in three dimensions not two.)

I know this; we were made to need each other; to work together; to be in community. We have a form of it now, but it’s not quite the same.

It’s not better or worse to be 100% remote. It’s just different.

That Look

His eyes are often closed. He enjoys his sleep, and needs much of it with all his body is going through. When he opens those eyes, it’s such a pleasure to see.

Yesterday evening he opened them for an extended time when I held him. He didn’t really look me directly in the eye as it might have just been too much stimulation, but that’s alright, it was great to see his eyes as I held him.

After a while I handed him back to his mother to hold. His eyes were still open, wide open, and what a sight it was. As he laid in her lap, looking up, his eyes locked onto hers. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. It was the first time I had seen his eyes that open, that intense, for 2 1/2 weeks. I couldn’t take my own eyes off of the sight. He just stared into her eyes, without wavering, looking as if into a deep well. The connection was moving to me. The little boy, staring into his mama’s eyes; the look of love; the look of connection; processing of mystery and spiritual connection; a look that could not be duplicated, defined, analyzed, or measured. It’s the deep look of human to human connection. Consciousness recognized; something that could not be articulated; it was just a look. A long look.

I am referring to my 2 1/2 week-old grandson. He’s beautiful. He sleeps a lot. But when he opens his eyes it’s a sight to behold.

The look of love; a 2-week old son to a mother, and a mother to her son. They’ve been together for 42.5 weeks, not 2.5. He knows her, she knows him. He can’t talk about it yet, and if he could, it would still be tough to define. Not much needs to be said. Just a look. Soul. Spirit. Love.

The eyes tell it.

Checking In

Welcome to September. Hard to believe that it’s already “that time of year” where we are looking at the end of summer coming soon, the end of Q3 2020, and the planning for 2021 business. Crazy how time flies, even in a COVID19 environment (or perhaps ESPECIALLY.) I thought I’d take the time to catch up again for a minute on a variety of topics

The Creating Structure Podcast: We have posted two podcasts, and the next one will record tomorrow, September 2, 2020. The first two sessions have a total of exactly 100 downloads as of today. Thank you for the support. Spread the word! We will continue to interview people around topics of business, architecture, facade, construction, and more. We record and upload every other week, so the next post will be around 9/8/2020. You can subscribe through Buzzsprout, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many other major platforms. You can find us here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1236827/episodes

Glass Build: The last Podcast session was centered around relevant topics for #GlassBuildConnect which is happening through September. NGA/Glass Magazine will post our session the week of 9/7/2020. I think many in the field of curtain wall, glass, glazing, delegated design, and construction will enjoy the content.

Expansion: We have other affiliate company entities associated with Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc. One of them is Wheaton Engineering & Consulting of NY, LLC. This is our New York State entity. We provide engineering, design, and consulting services for all types of facade, exterior cladding, curtain wall, in many forms and functions, to the entire State of New York. If you have any questions or needs in NYC, or other NY State metropolitan areas, please go to the “contact us” section of our website at http://www.wheatonsprague.com and you can send an email to the “info” email address.

Calling all Curtain Wall Engineers: We have job openings right now for positions centered around our Minnesota office and our Ohio Office. I say “centered around” because of the manager to whom the recruiting effort is attached. We prefer “in-or-near-office” candidates, but remote are considered as well, based on the times we live in. There’s a Senior Engineer opening for our Ohio office, and an Assistant Engineer opening in our Minnesota Office.

Focus: A quick word about focus. There’s thousands of “things” that we can do or get into, but we need to prioritize. “What are the most important items?” “What are the ‘game-changers’ (urgent and important)?” “Which ones offer the highest ROI or ROT (return on time)?” “What will have the most profound positive ‘stewardship’ impact for the business, staff, clients?” Once we sort this out, and this should be done with inputs from others to help clarify the goal, then define it clearly, put a timeline to it, and execute. It’s easy to always respond to the tyranny of the urgent, but we’ve got to make time for the important as well. Seek to SIMPLIFY. Growth and new initiatives fundamentally create more COMPLEXITY. Part of our job in leading, managing, and stewarding, is to seek to simplify and create order. Prune the branches. This is particularly hard for me as a visionary person with a growth and multiplying mindset. Having a great team of integrators, operators, and implementors is key. They are the “glue” in the “growth” process.

Again, welcome to September 1st. Hang in there. Focus on today, look ahead to the anticipation of tomorrow. Take care of family, friends, and the neighborhood. Control what you can control. Focus on mindset improvement. It’s up to all of us to help make it a better tomorrow by bring a better us to the table. Make it a great day.

Coach

I have a personal coach; you know, a life coach. He helps me with life and business things. Part of this is because life and business is all mixed up together when you found and own a business or businesses. It’s hard to sort out sometimes, at least for me.

Part of this is because I need a voice other than mine to listen to. I get plenty of other inputs, but it’s not the same as that 1-1 meeting with a trained coach and counselor. There’s skin in that game; paying someone to provide accountability, tools, and inputs to help advance. My coach is the best of both – a trained counselor and a committed coach; a business owner himself and one who has been coached.

Part of this is because I also know that the best athletes, musicians, actors, vocalists, and business leaders, typically have coaches; often multiple ones. Who am I to think that I can thrive the best without someone pushing me to my peak?

It’s party because I tried the counseling route as well. I wasn’t quite ready for that. It helped expose some things for sure, but that counselor said he thought I might be better off with this other counselor-coach who helped business owners and guys like me. He was right

Part of it is because I have ADD, even though I never knew it. I typically manifest that in one of two ways. One is a short attention span and moving to and from many things, which can create familial and organizational “head turns” (like, “what’s he doing now?”). The other is “hyper-focus” where I can grind at depth to great detail on certain tasks or directions. It produces a high ROI but can lead to burnout or losing sight of priorities.

Part of it is because people depend on me and I want to be a good leader, a good steward, steady, growing, setting a good example. No one has all the answers individually.

Part of it is that with some problems involving relationships, emotional IQ, people skills, the “grey areas,” it really helps to have perspective from someone that can look in from outside and provide inputs.

There’s a lot of “parts of it.” Those parts help define the whole. I highly recommend a coach to you if you’re reading, and if you can afford one. If you can’t, look for alternatives like reading programs, business groups, peer to peer groups, and the like.

Oh yeah, and my partner and I have a board or directors/advisors as well. That’s a big help too, but that’s another story for another blog.

It takes a village…..

Tomorrow

Proverbs 27:1 “Do not brashly announce what you’re going to do tomorrow; you don’t know the first thing about tomorrow.” (The Message version)

“I’ll do that tomorrow.” “Tomorrow things will be better.” “Tomorrow I am going to do (fill in the blank.)”

Maybe it’s okay to do that “thing” tomorrow because we can only get so much done in one day. We all have to manage our energy.

The idea of things getting better tomorrow is purely subjective, unless we plan to make ourselves better tomorrow; to build our mindset and character to respond better to tomorrow, or to make a better tomorrow. It’s based on the human quality of hope.

Planning to do something tomorrow is fine as well. Why not have plan? Planning is good, looking to the future is good. We humans have that innate character and image of our Creator God in order to envision what a plan for tomorrow may look like.

But tomorrow doesn’t really exist. Tomorrow is a hope that we’ve come to expect based on all the past “tomorrows” which are now yesterday’s. Tomorrow actually is an abstract. We hope tomorrow will come, we think tomorrow will come, and we expect tomorrow will come. That’s alright. But there’s no guarantees. So we can’t announce boldly with certainty what we WILL DO tomorrow. We don’t control or govern the turning of the planet and the reality of tomorrow.

If tomorrow comes, we don’t know what it will bring with it. The world, sickness, nature, lava flows, gravity, careless texters, cancer, the stock market, and other forces beyond our control don’t care about our agenda. COVID19 has proven that; one day everything was fine, the next day, COVID. Our health was good today, but now the blood test revealed an issue. My friend was cancer free, and tomorrow he’s not. September 10th was fine, September 11th changed the world. You get the picture.

My attitude is to say, “If the Lord wills, I’d like to do “this or that” tomorrow, but let’s see what the day brings.”

Let’s not put off until tomorrow what can get done or said today. Let’s plan to move ahead with confidence into the future, but know that the future is still not assured.

Today is the day. Now is the time. Let’s work on our mind, body, soul and spirit to be able to endure in increasing measure whatever tomorrow may bring, good or bad. Let’s approach any tomorrow with gratitude and thanksgiving for life, breath, and hope.

Outlier

“For out on the edge of darkness, there rides the peace train.” Cat Stevens

That’s where the peace train rides; out on the edge of darkness. If it rode in the middle of light, the place where peace already resides, there would be no need for it. It gathers people from the edges and expands those boundaries. The peace train is an outlier to unrest and darkness.

Doctors ride into the midst of sickness, on the edges of disease. They do the most good when they are in those places of deep need, saving lives, doing surgical repairs, handing emergency room issues. Doctors are outliers to sickness.

Broken things, or things needing to be built, need architects, engineers and contractors. That train rides on the edge of development, expansion, rehabilitation. The deeper the need, the more value that is provided. Engineers and builders are outliers to disorder and decaying infrastructure.

“It’s is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not called the righteous but sin sick people to repentance.” Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t just ride on the edge of a fallen world, he entered right into the middle of it; he engaged as the God-man and flipped the value system on it’s head. Jesus was an outlier. In this case it went so far as to let the religious order think they had won the day by putting him to death, when they actually accomplished His purpose to offer salvation to the world. Resurrection doesn’t happen without death. A seed doesn’t grow unless planted in the ground.

The broader the gap, the bigger the need, the greater the outlier impact. The deeper the outlier is engaged in the mess, the more impact, disruption, and sometimes hatred from status quo.

Where’s the edges to our outlier space? What’s our outlier gap? Where are we spending our time and energy to make impact?

Happy Saturday

COVID19 RULES

Since we are going to be in this environment indefinitely, here’s some things we’ve learned along the way and some observations on managing a professional services business in this reality.

Lead with care First: Health and wellness for clients and staff is #1. It always has been, but even more so now. Care 1st.

Over-Communicate: This is almost always true, but again, more so now. We always THINK we are communicating enough, or appropriately, but that’s rarely the case. Take nothing for granted. Communicate often, and with clarity, by any means necessary.

Get the 1-1 level: Check in at the 1-1 level with everyone that reports to you. Set up new reporting and accountability structures to accommodate the need to be “agile and nimble” in making sure no one is lost in the fray each day.

Virtual meetings: Make generous use of virtual meetings. I prefer MS TEAMS for internal meetings, WebEx for external meetings. TEAMS is a big value for driving engagement.

Office Environment: Make a safe space of beauty somewhere; make it invitational. We did so with our porch and the ability to eat, greet, meet outside through summer and into autumn.

Financials: Share the state of the business with everyone. Make it relevant to their space and contribution

New Sales, Marketing Progress, Project acquisition: Bang the drum loudly. Celebrate wins with everyone in the organization or in our respective domains (depending on size of company)

That’s all for today. I could go on and on but these are at the top of my mind.

Share your observations, insights and feedback. The more we share successes, the better we all will be. There’s enough of the “pie” to go around for everyone.

Checking in

It’s been a while since I have blogged and checked in with everyone. I hope you all are well. Thank you readers and followers. I deeply appreciate the engagement. Below I will update you on what’s up.

  1. It’s been a busy time since COVID19 hit. Our company at Wheaton & Sprague Engineering went “100% remote” work, shuttering office locations, on April 7th and we were in that mode until mid-June. We now have about 30% of our staff in physical office locations, and it’s slowly increasing, with caution. It takes extra effort to manage to the necessary level of engagement and communication when people are scattered. We are adjusting.
  2. Speaking of COVID19; I believe we are in this until we aren’t. That may sound obvious, but if anyone is thinking “when this is over and I get back to normal……” you need to adjust your thinking. This is the reality now. It’s a time to figure it out and get stronger; to build more relevant infrastructure in your company; to pursue “best practices” in this environment. My best guess for the next transition with less or no COVID, which may be too optimistic, is September of 2021. Be in the moment, manage to the current reality personally and professionally. Stay engaged. Build your network
  3. More COVID19: We lead with “care 1st” in our mindset and resulting interactions with our clients and staff. This applies to personal life too. “How are you doing?” “I hope you are well.” “Is there anything else I can do to support or help you?” All are relevant lead-ins to conversations. Positive results are produced by healthy people in mind, body, soul, spirit. Results are the outcome. Lead with care
  4. I’ve seen a recent increase in relevant, legitimate, project opportunities. Tech and Medical markets are strong. Combine that with some college work and research facilities and that is a good market presently. There’s more but you can figure out some of those. On the other hand, some past projects were put on hold and will likely push out indefinitely or be cancelled. The longer we can sustain “the gap” and sell into the current reality, the better. Our backlog is steady (up actually) and estimated work is strong (up as well.) We just landed a great new project at LaGuardia Airport and are pursuing some other fantastic projects that are in motion.
  5. Key Relationships: Nurture and foster your key relationships. Build on what you have. Nurture key prospective client relationships as well, and seek referrals. People want to work with those they trust and know will be present in this time. Reduce doubt for people and clients

What else is up?

  1. I have been gardening. We started garden at a community garden and have been working to reclaim the plot and grow veggies and plants in raised beds. It’s a family affair. It’s a great way to refresh and take some measure of control over questionable supply chains, to build community, live in a sustainable manner
  2. I just started a PODCAST called “Creating Structure” Podcast. It’s in the business category and you can find it on BUZZSPROUT. We also are listed now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer, Podchaser, Podcast Addict, and Listen Notes. The next Podcast will be recorded Wednesday 8/19/2020 and will be edited and uploaded probably by 8/25/2020. You can find the first episode here https://www.buzzsprout.com/1236827/episodes/4965362
  3. Speaking of the next podcast: It will be relevant to the GLAZING, Subcontracting, Architecture, and Delegated Design-Engineering category. This podcast will feature a discussion between my Branch Operations leader and I at the request of Katy Devlin, for Glass Magazine and their “Outlook Tuesdays”. Stay tuned for future uploads and postings from us and NGA.
  4. The Patio: I turned our patio at Wheaton & Sprague from looking like a prison yard to a workable, desirable, space. It is amazing what a couple patio umbrellas, flowers, and tables can do. “If you build it they will come.” Make spaces INVITATIONAL.

Well, that’s all for today. I’ve got 13 drafts in the blog queue and much more to share. I hope you all are well. Remember, identity drives behavior as my personal and business coach taught me, and reminds me still. What we manifest on the “outside” is produced from what is on our “inside.” Focus on internal health of soul, mind, and spirit, and the physical manifestation will come on the outside. Healthy inside=healthy outside. Life is tough. Look up, lean into God, count each day as a blessing. I do that through the Lord Jesus Christ and provision of His spirit in and through me. I’m “just passing through” this reality, trying to spread blessings while do so, and while on the way to an eternal home without end. For now, I am striving to give thanks in all circumstances. Let’s inform those in our lives rather than letting them dictate to us.

Be Blessed

John

The Garden

I wanted to start a garden this year. It was really a response to the shelter-at-home Covid-19 situation initially. I’d wanted to do it for a long time, but I drug my feet. Concerns about potential food supply chain issues downstream pushed me over the top. Now was the time. Even if I failed and bugs ate the entire garden, at least I was doing SOMETHING.

So my wife and I started the garden. She and I are 100%/100% partners in this. She’s the brains, I’m the brawn. She found the place; the context. God revealed to her that there was a plot at the community garden next to our daughter’s plot (hmmm..quite the “coincidence.”) I had never considered doing it offsite. I envisioned it here, at our home. But this context was perfect. Despite my heavy reluctance at first, I said yes, and we proceeded.

Fast forward. We are now deep into the garden work; still cultivating and reclaiming what had been a neglected plot; planting in raised beds, sowing seed, laying down mulch and more. It’s still a supply chain issue, but it’s become much more than that. There are other gardeners there. Other plots. There’s community. It’s a beautiful location. It’s gets me out of my home and to a neutral location. It’s people, air, breezes, birds, water, open space, resources.

As I muscled the wheelbarrow back and forth the other night, stepping through puddles, as the sun was in it’s advanced decline to the horizon for the day, as the breeze blew across my face, I realized it’s not about supply chain any longer. It’s about freedom. The garden is freedom. The garden is choice. That garden is earth, mind, muscle, and faith. The garden is community. The garden is mindset. I smiled and rested as I made my way to the car to head home.

What helps set you free?